For my first blog entry back, I thought I would muse about top 10 lists and cigar reviews. The more I have thought of my blog and how to add value to it, the more I thought about cigar reviews. Not just how I do reviews on the blog, but the philosophy behind reviews and….if they are of any value at all……

Top 10 Lists and Reviews:

There are a number of top 10 lists. There are so many that it can appear intimidating. We, as a society, are conditioned to have lists for everything: top 10 NFL catches, best songs of 2014, top 10 movies and so on. At a base level, these lists can help us weed through all the filler out there and get right to the good stuff. Most importantly, we don’t have to endure the bad stuff at all. We can just jump right to the front of the line and enjoy the fruits of the reviewer’s labor. Reviews serve the same purpose. At a base level, reviews are meant to say “you should probably try this and avoid that.” Having said that, what are the pros and cons to lists and reviews.

Just to be fully transparent, I do reviews on this blog and on a podcast. So, you can probably guess where I fall in this debate. However, it is an important debate to have and one I think about a lot.

Cons:

  • Does reducing cigars to a list and a series of numbers truly capture the year’s best smoking experiences? I mean, what about number 11? Is that cigar just garbage or not worth the magical top 10 status? Is number 11 really “worse” than number 10 or 9 or even number 1? In this sense, lists can become confusing as they attempt to assign an objective number to a largely subjective cigar experience.
  • Does number 1 simply mean they had the most money? There are often rumors and grumblings that top 10 lists are paid for. The implication is that the best cigars are not really the best, but the ones that gave the most money. In essence, they bought their greatness instead of earning it. This prevailing belief casts doubt on the validity of top 10 lists.
  • Lists do not fully represent the diverse range of cigars available to the cigar smoking public. In some sense top 10 lists are biased towards larger brands that are widely available. Smaller boutique brands might be amazing cigars; however, their limited availability reduces their chances of even making it into the reviewing pool. For example, RoMa Craft has a harder time making it to the reviewer’s desk than Padron or Drew Estate. In these cases the lists do not represent the best cigars of the year, but the best cigars they were able to smoke. Ultimately, in an industry so diverse some wonderful cigars will slip through the cracks.
  • Reviews reduce such a complex experience, like smoking cigars, to a basic number. This structure does not fully respect and recognize the subtle subjective things that make a cigar truly great. These more ethereal factors cannot be quantified and reviews miss that.
  • The central conflict is that reviews and lists are measurement tools and what makes a cigar great cannot be measured. How can you measure the amount of pleasure and relaxation you get from a cigar and put that into a number? The number itself does not tell the whole story and misses key factors that make a cigar great.

Pros:

  • Reviews and top 10 lists and expose people to cigar brands that they never would have tried before. For example, I tried the Aging Room F55 because it was number 2 on Cigar Aficionado’s list for 2013. Now, I look forward to trying the rest of Aging Room’s cigars. For more boutique brands, this exposure can help them cut through a crowded market.
  • Reading through a variety of top 10 and top 25 lists gives an accurate representation of the diversity within the cigar industry. Looking at more than one list gives you the opportunity to learn about the best the industry has to offer. Limiting yourself to one source of information does not give you an accurate picture of the diversity within the cigar industry and within cigar media.
  • Cigar reviews are guides a beginning cigar smoker can use to navigate a crowded marketplace. Some people new to cigars find the hobby intimidating as they try to pick cigars that will work for them. Looking at reviews from respected outlets, like Cigar Jukebox…., can help point you in the right direction and less some anxiety.
  • Cigar reviews can also help experienced cigar smokers try something new. All cigar smokers develop their palate and then tend to stick to a narrow band of cigars that suit your palate the best. For me, those cigars are strong rich cigars like the RoMa Craft CroMags, 1502 Black Gold, Tatuaje Black Label, Cain Straight Ligero and the 601 La Bomba Warhead II. However, reading reviews from people I respect in the industry can get me out of that rut and try new cigars. These are experiences I would not have  had if not for reading about these cigars in reviews.
  • The best reviews and top 10 lists teach you something about cigars. You can engage in that process and compare your experience with the cigar to the review. This can help you develop your palate and learn more about cigar blends.

Overall:

I am in favor of reviews and top 10 lists done well. A well done review should be transparent, in depth and encourage you to engage in the process. What I mean by that is that a good review is an opportunity to engage in a discussion with the reviewer. I see well written reviews as an invitation to try a cigar and see if you agree with the review. I mean, the best part about a list is not the list itself, but the discussions about the list.

A poor review is one that is simply a number and that is about it. I can’t learn much from “95 – smooth with hints of chocolate.” That is not a discussion one can engage in. In that example, the review lacks meaning and the number itself appears arbitrary. Reviews and lists with no foundation and no notes supporting their decisions do not add to anything and are simply dead ends.

In light of this, I will be evaluating my review structure over the next few weeks and will change it to make my reviews more a part of a larger discussion and something people can engage in. This means that I will be moving towards a number system with more categories. This is an effort to have reviews that can be compared to other reviews and to have something that does a better job representing the subtle nuances and complexities in cigars. The first cigar review in this new format will go live in 3 weeks. Stay tuned for updates.

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